Bordeaux Wines: It’s all about the grapes!

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Pauillac

Thursday afternoon we docked in town of Pauillac located in the estuary on the left bank of the broad marshy Gironde River.  The Medoc wine region is located here and it contains some of the most legendary chateaus for producing wine: Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Chateau Kirwan, Chateau Palmer and Chateau Pichon Baron, the later two being favorites of MA’s son Jim.  When all our groups from the the Viking Foresti boarded one of four Merceds Binz luxury motor coaches, we set off on our tour of this area.

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Chateau Pichon Baron

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Outside the small town of Pauillac the geography changed to vineyard after vineyard, rows after rows, acres and acres of grape vines growing.  Some of the vineyards employed a small tractor that travels between three rows of vines and plows the dirt. Some vineyards use horses and some had workers hand manicuring the planted vines.

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Cutaway of the 6-9 feet of the Bordeaux region gravel soil

We stopped for a visit to the Chateau Giscours where we were shown the grounds and storage buildings,  and given a fairly detailed talk about the wine making process including about how and why Bordeaux wine is the best.  Something I did not know is that the best soil is made up of mostly gravel.  We looked at an example of what a 9-foot deep hole looks like that the vines have to grow down to. From the first foot down to the clay it’s all gravel.  The vine has to grow down that far to reach clay and water.  It’s the minerals in the soil that feed the vines.  None of them  are fertilized chemically. After the technical stuff we were offered a tasting of three of their wines.

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Chateau Giscours

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Our dinner at the chateau

Our next and last stop of the evening was at the Chateau Kirwan where we were hosted by Viking for a chateau dinner in a beautiful room with wonderful wood beams all across the ceiling.

Dinner was a four course meal supervised by the ship’s chef and served by the ship’s wait staff.  MA has wanted to buy her son, Jim, a bottle of 1999 Bordeaux wine.  He and his wife Sue were married in 1999 and that makes these 1999 vintages special for them.

One of the waiters we had made friends with, Girondl, found a 1999 bottle at the chateau for her.  She bought it on the spot which made her very happy.  Our meal was four courses: Onion & garlic soup with a pastry top, a salad with duck on the side, veal filet mignon with asparagus, carrots and potato gratin and topped off with a chocolate Viennetta.  Do I have to say it was delicious!  We then boarded our bus which took us back to Pauillac and our ship. We were ‘done for the day’ to say the least.

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2016 has a year to go before being bottled

Tomorrow we visit the main market in Bordeaux.

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Blaye Citadel: I’m not a tourist. I’m a photographer on a tour!

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Map of the Citadel at Blaye

The Viking Forseti docked at the village of Blaye shortly after lunch.  We decided to walk into the citadel and have a look.  We gathered our hats, coats and camera and walked off the ship, across the parking lot and went into the 400 year old fort on the Gironde River.

A little history is in order.  The imposing fort was built in 17th Century on the orders of King Louis XIV.  He directed his commissioner of fortifications, Vauban, to build a fort to protect the prosperous wine trade in the Bordeaux region of France. Vauban looked for a spot and found it at on the eastern side of the Gironde.  It took the French four years to build it, 1685-1689.

The citadel has huge thick walls, lookout towers, and canon emplacements.  The original town was inside the fort but has since grown largely outside of the walls.  We climbed the hill with no problem and once we had seen enough we started back down.  On the way back to the ship I noticed a dark colored hawk flying near the surface.  As he came by I snapped a few images of him.  Google says it’s a Marsh harrier.

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Marsh Harrier

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Lookout Tower

The Citadel entrance, the jail, and another 400 year old door.

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This old house has character.

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If you think these French rivers are clear and crystal blue, this photo tells you the truth.

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As we were eating dinner I noticed the sunset and took this photo with my iPhone 6s.

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BOURG: A Village built on a rocky promontory above the Dordogne River

The Viking Forseti sailed down the Dordogne River last night and docked in the French village of Bourg. (Remember the last letter is silent.) We had a wonderful dinner with new friends Bill & Jordie and Peter & Robyn. We all went with the chef’s recommendations; a cheese souffle, roast lamb and a chocolate dessert. The food was delicious and the conversation seriously enjoyable.

As we were getting up from the table, Peter, who is a doctor, got up with us. He said he noticed that MA was struggling with back pain and truth be told, she was although she rarely complains. He said that he had a mini anti-spasm handheld electronic device he wanted her to try. We followed him to their room and he hooked the four sensors on her back and turned it on.  Mary Alice said it felt like one of those pedicure chairs going up and down the back. We thanked him profusely and went to the room.   I hope this will alleviate some of her annoying back pain which we are sure is a result of our 2015 accident. She was very touched by his concern.

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Everyone on the crew helps to restock supplies

After breakfast this morning we decided to explore Bourg on our own. We walked off the ship and around to the far west end of the port.  MA did not want to climb the 75 steps to the top of the town so she went a different direction making me promise I would be back by 10:30 as the ship was leaving at 12 noon. She fusses because I sometimes have a little habit of getting so involved with the camera I forget the time.

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Anyhow, after climbing the stairs up to the top of the cliff I wanted to go inside a small Gothic church, however, it was locked up so I only have photos of the exterior.

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Walking around the small village I found the covered market, empty.  It is only open Sunday’s. The old ramparts which surround the town are from the 13th to 17th Century.

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Wandering around the village I found a WWI memorial.  There were many names engraved on the monument. It must have been devastating for this small village to lose so many young men.  I am reminded of the many memorials I’ve seen throughout Texas as I photographed the county courthouses. War is a terrible thing for humanity but when some nation or entity threatens your country and kills innocents it is time to act. To all the brave young men who take up arms in defense of freedom, I salute you.

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One last thing before I go.  I was serenaded this morning by a French rooster in a small park.  He was strutting around with one of his hens and crowing loudly.  He posed for a moment while I took his portrait.  I returned to the ship on time (!) and we wandered down to the lounge for coffee and iPad games.

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Here kitty, kitty.  A very camera shy French cat.

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Viking Forseti docked at Bourg

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What kind of know do you call this?

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Libourne: An English Port Bastide & Saint-Emilion: French Wine Capital

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Part of Livourne across the river

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The Viking Forseti on the Dordogne River at sunset

Libourne is a royal walled town known as a Bastide.  It was founded in 1270 at the request of King Henry III of England.  Try to understand that this part of France, the Aquitaine, was part of England in the 11th Century.  King Henry III put a lieutenant in charge of building the town, a Sir Roger de Leybourne. He was successful in building a really nice fortified city.

Located at the confluence of the Isle and the Dordogne rivers at the far end of the Gironde estuary, Libourne is the first shipping port on the Dordogne, nearly 80 miles inland.  This unique location opened up foreign trade opportunities and businesses soon flourished, particularly the wine trade, making it one of the most prosperous Bastides in western France.

Our ship, the Viking Foresti, docked adjacent to another river ship, the Ama Dolce.  The bridge you see in the featured image is the Bridge of 1820.  I think it was built that year.  We docked late in the day Tuesday and after dinner MA and I walked off the ship for an evening stroll.  Some of the best light of the day is after the sun sets in the horizon, especially if there are high cirrus clouds. You can see this in the photos of the bridge and across the river.

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Port Tower stands guard over Livourne

To get off the ship we had to walk up to our top deck, across the top deck of the Ama Dolce down to the gang plank and across to the dock gate.  You need a code to get back through the locked gate.  Our walk took us to the Port Tower, built in the 11th Century.  I noticed a good amount of bullet holes in the side of the tower and could only speculate as to how those occurred.

We ran into a drunken teenager carrying a beer bottle.   He could not have been over 16. He mumbled something but I could not understand what he was saying and I’ve been know to accurately converse with drunks. Anyhow our walk into Lebourne was short and we made our way back to the ship.  A hot shower and warm bed was waiting for us back on the Viking Forseti.

This Viking ship is very comfortable. We have a queen size bed and we have learned to adjust to the smaller size.  We normally turn the a/c down to 70 and both of have no trouble going to sleep and staying asleep.

The next morning we were up and ready for breakfast at 8:00. The chef prepares your eggs exactly how you want it.  Today I ordered two over easy and I made myself toast. It’s a breakfast I really like.

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Our tour of Libourne began at 9:15.  MA decided to stay back on the ship.  At first I was going to pass on the walking tour but decided that I probably never be back this way and went ahead with the tour group.  The weather this morning was cloudy and cool and there was a distinct possibility of rain.  Our small group followed the river to the Port Tower and turned into town.

The street was being rebuilt and I was fascinated by the work crew laying the bricks. Six men were engaged in the reconstruction of the cobblestone street.  I took some photos of the process.  One guy was operating the fork lift, one person mixing the concrete and four men were laying the bricks in the street.

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This guy’s main commodity is oranges.

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The huge green beans looked good enough to eat raw.

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Fresh Artichokes

Our tour group went into an open air market and then into the covered market.  There was everything there from fresh vegetables, fish, beef, cheese and then the used clothes.  I tried to capture the flavors and scents of the market in my photos, except for the clothes!  It was time to return to the ship and have lunch with MA.

After lunch we boarded buses for a short drive to Saint-Emilion, the wine capital of Bordeaux. We once again found our new friends; Bill and Jordy and Robin and Peter on the bus with us. Once we got to Sainte-Emilion, MA decided to go on the “easy walking” tour and I went with the regular tour.

Sainte-Emilion is a town built into a cliff that is surrounded by vineyards, literally.  The town was built in the late 12th Century.  Between the 12th and 15th Centuries, the Collegiate Church and its monastery was built.  Walking down from the upper streets to the lower street level is an experience, especially on wet cobblestone streets.  My tour ended and I want to go back to the church and cloister to get some better photos.  As I came out of the church, MA was in the courtyard.  We went to lunch together and walked back to the bus.  Here are some photographs of Sainte-Emilio.

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Sauternes is French for Sweet & Cadillac is a Village, not a Car

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Well, it’s Monday here in France and we are currently river cruising south on the Garonne River.  Earlier our morning began with breakfast at 7:00am.  I tried one of the omelets and watched the chef cook mine.  He squirted some olive oil into a pan and then threw in some chopped onion, chopped green peppers, chopped mushrooms, chopped ham, and bacon bits and sautéed them for about a minute.  He then poured in the equivalent of two eggs on top of the sautéed vegetables.  He then allowed the eggs to cook for a couple of minutes and he added some cheese.  Thirty seconds later he folded it over and put it on a plate for me.  I am talking one great omelet.

After breakfast we boarded our Viking buses.  We were joined by four new friends: Robin and Peter Klainbard of New York and Jordie and Bill Chalupnik of League City. One nice touch on Viking is that anytime that we leave the ship for a Viking excursion, the hotel manager and assistant are at the gangway handing out bottled water.

The buses headed south out of Bordeaux and onto A62.  The “A” routes are toll highways in France. The scenic landscape was an assortment of planted pine forests and vineyards. You know you’re in wine country when all you see is vineyard after vineyard.

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Vineyards of the Chateau d’ Arche

The guide talked about the wine of Bordeaux but I honestly did not listen to her.  She kept talking about what wine went with what food, something quite frankly I think is a personal choice.  After about an hour and a half we arrived at our first stop: Chateau de Arch.  They make a sweet wine (Sauternes) that you could substitute as a dessert.  The qualities of wine are its color, its aroma and its taste.  I was busy taking pictures and skipped the talk by a young lady of the winery about all of the intricacies of the wines.  From the vineyard we were invited to taste three of the wines.

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Grape Vines at the Chateau d’ Arche

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These small grapes produce some of the sweetest wines

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Our Wine Guide

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Our tour group

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Entrance to the village of Cadillac

We then climbed back into our buses and made a short trip to the village of Cadillac. I didn’t know I was mispronouncing the name all this time.  The first thing I learned about French is the last letter in a word is usually not pronounced.  They also don’t pronounce the “L” in some words.  So the French say ”caw-di-yak” and not Cadillac.

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The Moat Around the Chateau de Cadillac

There is a chateau there that was closed so we did a short walk through the little village. There is a huge wall that surrounded the town a couple of hundred years ago. See the photo.  Oh, Antoine Laumet de La Mothe Cadillac was born near here in 1658 and traveled to

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Walled City

Canada in 1683.  He fought against the Iroquois and established the town of Detroit in 1701.  The city of Cadillac, MI, Cadillac Mountain, ME and the Cadillac car are all named after him.

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French candidates for President, the two on the far left win; Macron & LePen

We took the bus back to the ship where lunch was waiting for us. We will have a safety drill at 1:30 and then a nap.  Oh, what about yesterday, no blog?  We didn’t do anything yesterday except visit a museum and I don’t like museums.

Note from MA: But he DOES wander off and take hundreds of photographs!!  Later!

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Taken at the skate board park next to the docked Viking Forseti

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Tours to Bordeaux: A bus ride and a night walk

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Miroit d’Eau in Bordeaux

Saturday morning early, we continued our tour of the Loire.  After breakfast at the Chateau Belmont we walked down the hill and boarded the bus. Viking took care of all the details, like our suitcases.  The weather could not have been better.  It was about 60 degrees with a clear blue sky.  The flowering trees and the wisteria were in full bloom.  The air was clean and crisp.

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Wisteria at Chateau de Chenonceau

Our first stop was in Tours at the Saint Gatien Cathedral.  This is a truly Gothic church; flying buttresses, high ceiling, lots of light in the central areas and graceful Gothic arches in the ceiling.  It was built over a period of time from 1160 to 1547.  There are glorious stained glass windows capped by a huge rose window in the front.  It is a true masterpiece of the 15th Century.  Renovation of the church began in the early 1990’s and continues today.  The tomb of Charles VIII and Anne de Bretagne’s children are located on the first floor.

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Saint Gatien Cathedral in Tours

Our tour moved to the outside and a visit to a huge Cedar of Lebanon tree that was planted in 1804, making it over 1200 years old.  It is 31 meters high (100′) and 33 meters in diameter (100′ +).  The lower limbs are so heavy they require pillars to hold them up off the ground. It is one big beautiful tree.  We climbed back into the bus and continued our journey toward Bordeaux.

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Cedar of Lebanon

We stopped along the way at an Avia rest stop. These rest stops in France are huge, immaculate and filled with delicious coffees and snacks, kind of like a Buckee’s! We did notice all the trucks parked at the stop. The guide said that trucking is heavily regulated requiring them to stop and rest. Most are not allowed to drive on the weekends.

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The French countryside is a patchwork of yellows and greens; the yellow is rapeseed from which canola oil is extracted and the other is a green alfalfa like feed.

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The Market at Poitiers and the Cathedral

Our tour stopped next in the town of Poitiers and being Saturday, it was market day in the square.  The market went around all four sides of a very large Romanesque church, known as the Notre-Dame la Grande.  Going inside these Romanesque churches is similar to going into a building with all the lights out.  By that I mean it’s dark inside.  The central worship area was also dark and at the time of our visit the altar was bathed by two natural light beams from the ceiling.

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Interior of the Cathedral

The Saturday Market in Poitiers

I took several photos until I was happy with the exposure. We had 1 1/2 hours of free time for lunch and on-our-own exploration so we walked around the market and I stayed busy taking photos right and left.  I really enjoy these markets because the fruits and vegetables are absolutely beautiful, shiny and fresh.  And there was so much to see: vegetables, fruits, cheeses, sausages, breads, flowers, and starter plants for vegetable gardens.  Our rest stop ended and we boarded the bus again and continued our journey to Bordeaux.

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From the arriving tour bus

We arrived in Bordeaux and the bus took us right to the Viking ship called The Forseti. My first impression was that the ship was longer than I imagined. The decor is kind of like a upscale IKEA store.  The crew was warm and friendly.  We were quickly checked in and escorted to our cabin which is small with the bed taking up most of the space.  We unpacked and got everything out of sight. There was a scheduled introduction welcome at 5:30.

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I found this crane silhouetted against the twilight sky waiting for our night tour to start.

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Our first meal aboard the Viking Forseti was so, so.  MA had steak and I had salmon. They are very generous with the wine that is on the house. We will hold off judging the food until after a few meals. Our experience on Princess ships tell us they save the best for toward the end of the cruise and therefore those meals become your lasting memories of the food!

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Bordeaux’s Pont de Pierre

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Opera House

Viking offered a complimentary “evening walking tour” at 9:30 and I wanted to go try some night photography.  There were about 60 of us and we were divided into three groups of about 20 each. We walked to a tram station and boarded a train to the central downtown area.  I took several photos of some of the iconic Bordeaux buildings all the time feeling “rushed” by the guide which is why I really prefer winging it on my own. But this is a good way to get oriented in a place we haven’t been to before.

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Pont Jacques Chaban Delmas (Modern Bridge)

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Chateau Chenonceau & the Tours Cathedral: Saint Martin de Tours

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The French Countryside….from a bus window

Our tour today took us through the French countryside to the Chateau Chenonceau, a French chateau that was literally created by women.  I don’t have time to explain but it began with a King’s girlfriend to whom he gave the property and after his death the Queen snatched it back from the girlfriend!

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Chateau Chemonceau

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Yes, it was built over a river

We are tired so I’ll make this short. We went to the Chateau Chenonceau and to another,the Chateau Amboise and then to the old part of Tours.

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Chateau Amboise

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Ceiling of the Cathedral of Saint Martin of Tours

We had dinner at the hotel and we’re calling it a night.  See you tomorrow.

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